Rogue Valley News, Thursday 2/11 – Medford Considers Ban on Greenway Camping During Wildfire Season, Caregiver Arrested for Murder in Grants Pass

The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Rogue Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting’s

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather

Today- Rain, mainly after 10am. Areas of fog before 7am. High near 51. Calm wind. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.

Friday- A chance of showers before 10am, then a chance of rain after 4pm. Snow level 3700 feet rising to 4700 feet in the afternoon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 50. Light east wind. Chance of precipitation is 30%.

Saturday- Rain, mainly before 4pm. Snow level 4000 feet lowering to 3500 feet. High near 47. West northwest wind 5 to 7 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

Sunday– Rain likely, mainly after 4pm. Snow level 2500 feet rising to 3400 feet in the afternoon. Cloudy, with a high near 47. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.

Monday/Washington’s Birthday– Rain. Cloudy, with a high near 51.

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Oregon reports 555 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases and 13 new deaths

There are 13 new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,044, the Oregon Health Authority reported. Oregon Health Authority reported 555 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 148,475.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (2), Benton (15), Clackamas (41), Clatsop (2), Columbia (5), Coos (15), Crook (3), Deschutes (39), Douglas (53), Grant (1), Hood River (3), Jackson (25), Jefferson (13), Josephine (18), Klamath (6), Lake (6), Lane (40), Linn (9), Marion (44), Morrow (1), Multnomah (116), Polk (16), Tillamook (2), Umatilla (9), Union (5), Wasco (3), Washington (53) and Yamhill (10).

Vaccinations in Oregon

When older adults can start getting a COVID-19 vaccine

Today, OHA reported that 16,427 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were added to the state immunization registry. Of this total, 9,686 doses were administered on Feb. 9 and 6,741 were administered on previous days but were entered into the vaccine registry on Feb. 9.

Cumulative daily totals can take several days to finalize because providers have 72 hours to report doses administered and technical challenges have caused many providers to lag in their reporting. OHA has been providing technical support to vaccination sites to improve the timeliness of their data entry into the state’s ALERT Immunization Information System (IIS).

Oregon has now administered a cumulative total of 604,215 first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines. To date, 821,150 doses of vaccine have been delivered to sites across Oregon.

These data are preliminary and subject to change. OHA’s dashboards provide regularly updated vaccination data, and Oregon’s dashboard has been updated today.

Tens of thousands more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are now in the Pacific Northwest thanks to the new federal partnership with pharmacies.

Locally on the list: vaccines are being delivered to Safeway, Albertsons and Costco locations.

For Albertson’s, which also owns Safeway, this partnership was a no brainer. Jill McGinnis is a spokesperson for Safeway and Albertsons. She told KATU News that starting Thursday, if you are in an eligible group in either Oregon or Southwest Washington, you will be able to schedule your appointment.

There’s usually a Safeway or Albertsons on every corner for most people. So, accessibility is a huge, huge piece of our partnership,” Jill McGinnis Communications director for Safeway and Albertsons said.

The difficult part, she says, is there are limited spots.

“We’re just getting around 100 vaccinations this first time. So, we do anticipate that the website, for the appointments, will be busy and we’ll fill up pretty quickly. So, we’ll just need everyone to be patient and we’ll be getting more vaccinations in the weeks to come,” McGinnis said.

She says more than 100 stores will get a new shipment each week and she expects the number of doses to rise to at least 200 per store.

Costco management says they will get started with vaccination on Monday, February 15th for anyone who is eligible.

As for other popular pharmacies, Washington Department of Health says they expect others to be approved soon.

To schedule an appointment at a Safeway or Albertsons pharmacy near you, visit their website.

Oregon Health & Science University hospital system has canceled vaccine clinics for Saturday and Sunday because of a major winter snowstorm expected to hit the Portland area. Oregon Health & Science University said Wednesday that it was closing its vaccine clinics for safety over forecasted snow and freezing temperatures. The National Weather Service says the city will likely get roughly 2 inches of snowfall from Thursday to Friday. OHSU says it is notifying patients, some at least 80 years old, and rescheduling appointments. Three sites will be closed, including Hillsboro Stadium.

Oregon Governor Announces Outdoor Contact Sports Can Resume

 Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that some outdoor contact sports, including high school football, can resume this week.

In addition, the Oregon Health Authority reported data shows a “sharp decrease” in daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the previous week.

“This has been a difficult year for Oregon’s youth athletes and, as our COVID-19 numbers have dropped, I have been committed to working with our health experts to reevaluate our protocols for sports,” Brown said. “School sports play an important role in fostering students’ mental, emotional, and physical health. We will proceed with caution, to ensure that teams are following health and safety precautions to protect our athletes, their families, and their communities.”

Health and safety protocols for school sports teams are determined based on the counties risk level. In “lower risk” and “moderate risk” counties, practices and games for outdoor contact sports can resume. In “high risk” and “extreme risk” counties, where COVID-19 remains more widespread, schools and other sports organizations can opt-in to resuming outdoor contact sports with additional protocols in place; On-site COVID-19 testing for symptomatic individuals, contact information for contact tracing and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.

In addition schools in “high risk” and “extreme risk” counties must also have at least limited in-person instruction occurring, “with the goal of achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year,” the governor’s office said in a press release.

Schools and sports organizations in “high risk” and “extreme risk” counties that do not opt in and implement the protocols and requirements will continue to be limited to non-contact sports, practices and games. Indoor contact sports are still banned.

“To all of Oregon’s high school athletes: I am asking you now to be leaders in your communities,” Brown said. “We’ve given you the chance to play, but with that opportunity comes great responsibility. If COVID-19 numbers spike, we may have to shut down contact sports again.”

Brown said that during the past year she has received many emails from athletes, coaches and parents, asking for sports to resume.

“I am challenging you now to devote your energy to making sure in-person academics can resume for your kids, too,” Brown said. “If our school gyms, fields, and weight rooms are to reopen, we owe it to Oregon’s children to make sure our classrooms, libraries, and science labs fully reopen as well.”

In addition, as COVID-19 cases in the state decrease, Brown said the Oregon Health Authority will review and update the exemption for college sports––allowing Division 2, Division 3, and NAIA schools to submit health and safety plans to resume college athletics.

The health authority reported 555 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the state’s total since the start of the pandemic to 148,475. The death toll is 2,044.

Officials from the health authority said that the most recent weekly data shows cases have decreased.

During the week of Feb. 1, the health authority reported a 15% decrease of cases from the previous week and the lowest weekly total in three months.

New COVID-19 related hospitalizations similarly declined by 8% from the previous week. Virus-related deaths decreased to 66 — the lowest weekly total since mid-November.

Medford Considers Ban on Greenway Camping During Wildfire Season

Last year, large trees and blackberry thickets in the greenway helped fuel the disastrous Almeda Fire between Ashland and Medford.

So Medford Deputy City Attorney Eric Mitton is proposing adjusting a city ordinance so it would prohibit people from sleeping or camping in the greenway and Prospect Park between May 1 and Sept. 31 — or any time of the year when the fire chief determines that there’s a fire hazard.

The council will first discuss the ordinance during a study session on Thursday, so it won’t take a formal vote or hear public comment until one of its regular council meetings.

The proposal would also make it illegal to organize unauthorized camps in public spaces. A group of activists have been staging camps across Jackson County to bring awareness to its housing shortage. Under this proposal, they could face misdemeanor charges in Medford’s city limits.

Mitton’s proposal would allow people to sleep in some public spaces. This is to align Medford’s ordinance with a recent court decision from the U.S. District Court in Medford, which held that Grants Pass was violating the Eighth Amendment for issuing non-criminal violations to people for sleeping in public spaces while using bedding.

Although the proposal would still allow people to sleep in some public spaces while using bedding, they couldn’t set up a tent or a campfire, and they’d have to leave within 24 hours. They’d also be prohibited from sleeping or camping in baseball fields, playgrounds, underneath roadways and bridges, or near railroad tracks. People who violated this rule could face fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

Caregiver Arrested for Murder in Grants Pass

On January 24, 2021, a nursing supervisor at Three Rivers Medical Center (TRMC) contacted the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety (GPDPS) to report a patient in their facility with suspicious injuries believed to be caused by neglect. The patient, 59-year-old Martha M Vencill, was in critical condition due to the extent of her injuries. Prior to admittance to the hospital, Vencill had been receiving full-time in-home care due to developmental disabilities. 


During the course of the investigation, Page E Backus was identified as Vencill’s caregiver, whom Vencill had lived with for nearly 10 years. She and another resident received fulltime care from Backus. On January 9, 2021, Vencill suffered a fall in her room. Backus was unable to assist Vencill back into bed and left her on the floor for nine days, until January 18, 2021. By January 23, 2021, Vencill’s injuries were so severe she was transported by ambulance to TRMC. 

The extent of injuries were determined to be a result of Backus’ failure to provide care or seek medical attention for Vencill. On January 26, 2021 at 11:44 am, GPDPS Detectives arrested Backus for Criminal Mistreatment in the First Degree. The other resident for whom Backus was responsible was removed from her home and placed in a safe location.

On January 26, 2021, Vencill died from her injuries. After an extensive investigation, Backus was indicted by the Josephine County Grand Jury on February 9, 2021. On February 10, 2021, GPDPS Detectives again arrested Backus and lodged her at the Josephine County Jail on the listed charges.

Arrestee: Page Elizabeth Backus, 58 years old

Charges: Murder II, Criminal Mistreatment I

Victim: Martha M Vencill, 59 years old

The Grants Pass Department of Public Safety was assisted in this investigation by Three Rivers Medical Center, Josephine County District Attorney’s Office, Community Living Case Management and Adult Protective Services. Anyone with information about this case is asked to call GPDPS at 541-450-6260.  Grants Pass Dept. of Public Safety

Medford Tiki Lodge Murder Defendant Pleads Guilty. Sentenced to at Least 25 Years

The man accused of killing a 23-year-old woman in a Medford motel room in May of 2019 pled guilty in Jackson County Circuit Court on Wednesday, according to the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office.

Justin Graham-Yaeger was arrested on May 3 of 2019 after police found the body of 23-year-old Sierra Clemens in a room at the Tiki Lodge in Medford. Clemens had been stabbed to death.

Medford Police said at the time that Graham-Yaeger was discovered hiding in a dumpster of a business several blocks from the scene of Clemens’ murder.

A grand jury indicted Graham-Yaeger on charges of aggravated murder, murder, and robbery in the first degree. Graham-Yaeger entered an initial plea of “not guilty” in June of 2019.

On Wednesday, the DA’s Office said that Graham-Yaeger pled guilty to a single charge of Murder in the Second Degree. Judge Timothy Barnack sentenced him to life in prison with a 25-year mandatory minimum, restitution for funeral expenses, forfeiture of all seized weapons, and a lifetime of post-prison supervision.

Several members of Clemens’ family were in the courtroom, with others joining via telephone. Her mother, father, and younger sister submitted statements to the court.

“Mr. Samuel Clemens noted that Sierra Clemens was the type of person who would give her last five dollars to someone in need,” the DA’s Office said. “Ms. Poppi West shared how Sierra had an unquenchable thirst for life and adventure; befriending others without judgment. Sierra’s sister talked about how advice she had received from her sister still rings in her ears and laments that she will miss the warm soft hugs her sister would bestow upon her.”

The DA’s Office said that it recommended the maximum possible penalty for Graham-Yaeger.

“The State hopes this resolution brought some sense of closure to Sierra Clemens’ family members,” the District Attorney’s Office concluded.


Winter Weather Advisory for South Central Oregon Cascades

A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect for the South-Central Oregon Cascades above 5,000 feet between 10:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Thursday.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service said wet snow is expected with accumulations of 4 to 6 inches. Winds will gust 20 to 30 miles per hour. The Advisory area includes Diamond Lake and Crater Lake and highways 62, 230 and 138.

Drivers in these areas should carry tire chains and be prepared for snow covered roads and limited visibilities.

Oregon’s “School Exclusion Day” for child immunizations is fast approaching, and families will need to ensure that their students are current on their shots — whether they
are currently learning in person or not.

Exclusion day is February 17, and Oregon requires that students be caught up on their required immunizations to continue attending school or childcare. The fact that many Oregon districts still have only limited in-person learning due to coronavirus adds another wrinkle to the annual requirement.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, schools have the option to block remote learning access for kids who do not have current immunization records as of February The immunization requirement still applies to the usual list of vaccines, depending on age or grade. Those include the DTaP, Polio, Varicella, MMR, Hepatitis B, Hepatatis B, Hib, or Tdap vaccines. It does not include coronavirus vaccines, which are not currently required or approved for children.

“Immunization is the best way to protect children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as whooping cough and measles,” said Stacy de Assis Matthews, school law coordinator in the OHA Public Health Division. “Just two years ago, we saw several measles cases in the Northwest. We don’t want another disease outbreak of on top of COVID-19. Immunizations are the most effective way to stop the spread of measles, to keep kids and school communities healthy and safe.”

If a child’s school or childcare vaccination records are not up-to-date on February 17 — and if they are attending in-person — they will be sent home, OHA said. According to the agency, local health departments sent more than 21,000 letters to parents and guardians last year, informing them of the need for updated immunizations. A total of 3,268 were kept out of school or childcare until the necessary information was turned in.

This year, those letters should have been mailed on or before February 3.

Parents who are seeking immunizations for their children should their health care provider, local public health department, or dial 211 for information. Public health agencies are barred from turning someone away due to the inability to pay for a required vaccine.

Oregon currently allows non-medical exemptions to getting immunized for philosophical or religious reasons, with the requirement that the parent or guardian watch an online educational video or speak to a healthcare provider in order to obtain certification that they have been advised on the risks.

A bill seeking to end non-medical exemptions foundered in the Oregon legislature after a walkout by Republican lawmakers and the resulting deal to secure a major funding bill for Oregon schools.

3 Die in Fatal Crash on Hwy 26 – Clatsop County

On Wednesday, February 10, 2021 at approximately 10:07 A.M., Oregon State Police Troopers and emergency personnel responded to a two vehicle crash on Hwy 26 near milepost 11.

Preliminary investigation revealed a Mercedes station wagon, operated by Walter Smith (21) of Pendleton,  was westbound when it lost control and slid sideways into the eastbound lanes and collided with a Toyota Tacoma operated by Natalie Swauger (30) of Seaside.

Smith and his passengers – Erick Fadness (20) of Decorah, Iowa and a 16 year old female from Portland, all sustained fatal injuries and were pronounced deceased. 

Swauger was transported by air ambulance to a Portland hospital.

Speed is believed to be a contributing factor.

OSP was assisted by the Seaside Fire Department and ODOT.  Oregon State Police

Klamath Community College is pleased to announce the college has been awarded a $320,000 grant to integrate advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity education pathways and course outcomes.

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The funding is part of a $5 million U.S. Department of Labor Strengthening Community College Training Grant that was awarded to Klamath
Community College and eight other Oregon community colleges.

The grant will be distributed over a four-year period. The grant is intended to support increased collaboration between community college advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity programs in response to a need for cyber-awareness in advanced manufacturing.

The need has grown with the emergence of 5G networks that facilitate rapid adoption of automation and accelerated growth of artificial intelligence. As part of the $5 million grant, the consortium will first hire a statewide project director, whose responsibilities will include gathering best practices among cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing community college programs and workforce partners.

This collaborative effort will lead to updates to program curriculum, offering stackable credentials directly tied to employment and career advancement, and alignment of policies related to credit transfer, program governance, and more.

Oregon Lawmakers Considering Close To 4,000 Bills In Partially Remote Session

Oregon lawmakers are on track to introduce the highest number of bills in a decade, suggesting the overwhelming majority of them won’t get even a momentary hearing as the Legislature operates mostly online until at least April due to the pandemic.

House Speaker Tina Kotek told reporters this week that she expects the total number of bills could approach 4,000. If that happens, it would be the most pieces of legislation introduced in an Oregon legislative session since at least 2009, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive’s analysis of legislative data.

Oregon Dept. Of Revenue to Start Processing State Tax Returns on Friday

The Oregon Department of Revenue will begin processing state income tax returns on Friday, the same day the IRS will begin processing federal returns.

Although some taxpayers have already submitted their returns, processing doesn’t start until the tax season officially begins.

Returns will be processed in the order they are received. However, as in years past, the department won’t be issuing personal income tax refunds until after February 16. The fastest way for a taxpayer to get a refund is by e-filing. Taxpayers who e-file returns and request refunds via direct deposit receive their refund sooner, on average, than those who file paper returns and request refund checks.

A refund hold is part of the department’s tax fraud prevention efforts and allows for confirmation that the amounts claimed on tax returns match what employers report on Forms W-2 and 1099. Once we begin processing returns, filers can check Where’s My Refund? to see the status of their refund.

As a result of COVID-19 stimulus payments, unemployment benefits, and federal tax law changes, there may be impacts to what taxpayers file on their Oregon income tax returns. Here are some important topics and information for Oregon personal income tax filers.

Stimulus Payments

Economic Impact Payments received during 2020 and early 2021 may impact the amount of federal tax subtraction that can be claimed on the 2020 Oregon personal income tax return. The federal tax subtraction is based on the amount of federal tax you had to pay in the 2020 tax year. Individuals should reduce the amount of federal tax paid in 2020 by the payments received to determine the amount of federal tax subtraction they are allowed. The federal tax subtraction is limited to $6,950 (or $3,475 if married filing separately).

Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment benefits are taxable to Oregon. Funds received through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program are also taxable to Oregon. Unlike W-2 wages, unemployment benefits do not automatically have amounts withheld to pay taxes at the end of the year. Individuals who did not elect to have withholding on their unemployment may see an increased tax bill.

For individuals still receiving unemployment benefits in 2021, the department urges recipients to submit Form 1040WH to the Oregon Employment Department to authorize withholding.

Oregon Withholding

The Department of Revenue has its own Form OR-W-4. Individuals should review their withholding to determine if changes are necessary for tax year 2021. A calculator is available to help ensure withholding amounts are correct.

Business Use of Home

Oregon is automatically tied to changes made to taxable income under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Employees who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from an employer are not eligible for the business use of home deduction, even if they are currently working from home. Along with other changes, the TCJA suspended the use of employee business expenses for employees through 2025. Visit the IRS for more information on business use of home.  

Disaster Relief (COVID-19, Wildfires, Straight-line Winds)

The Department of Revenue recognizes not all individuals will be prepared to pay their taxes in full this year. The department is offering penalty waiver relief for individuals impacted by COVID-19, wildfires, or straight-line winds. To learn more, visit Revenue’s tax relief options webpage.


All Oregon taxpayers preparing their own returns can file electronically at no cost using Oregon’s free fillable forms. There are many free or low-cost preparation options available for both federal and Oregon tax returns. Some software companies offer free software use and e-filing for eligible taxpayers. Visit the Department of Revenue website to take advantage of the software and free offers and get more information about free tax preparation services.

Revenue Online

The Department of Revenue continues to expand features available through Revenue Online. Individuals can view letters sent to them by the department, initiate appeals, make payments, and submit questions. Visit Revenue Online to learn more.

To get tax forms, check the status of your refund, or make payments, visit or email You can also call 800-356-4222 toll-free from an Oregon prefix (English or Spanish) or 503-378-4988 in Salem and outside Oregon. For TTY (hearing or speech impaired), we accept all relay calls.

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